Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Budo Thoughts During Jet Lag

Teacher, Friends And Peers
Photo copyright Kumiko Yamada 2015

I wrote most of this while recovering from my most recent trip to Japan.

I’ve got jet lag. I was lucky enough to spend the last two weeks in Japan visiting friends and teachers, but now I’m home and until my body adjusts to the different solar schedule, I’ve got a few hours in the middle of the night where I’ll be awake.

Jet lag gives me some time to think about things.It’s always great to visit everyone in Japan, and these past two weeks were no exception. I have been going to Japan to train for 25 years. I still see myself as the young guy who just started. All around me in Japan I can see how everyone there has aged and changed. I’m not the young guy without a clue anymore. Kiyama Sensei turned 90 this year, but he still has the most powerful koshi I know of.  Inoue Sensei hasn’t changed much. He was a 7th dan with smooth, strong iai when I started, and his technique has gotten smoother with time. There are a number of folks around who hadn’t even started iai when I moved back to the US from Japan, and they are already 5th dans.

Budo is a path that goes on and on. It’s not just a solo path. We travel the road with our teachers and the other students around us, and the journey will continue even after we no longer can. For ourselves, we journey along the road seeking skill and maturity. For our students, we are part of the road itself. My teachers have formed the bed of the road I’m journeying on. Particularly early on in my journey, they were the road. If they branched left, so did I. If they turned right, I followed. Their direction was fundamental to how I saw budo and what parts of it I was able to explore.

As I’ve gained in experience and understanding, I have more ability and freedom to explore the path of budo and all the side roads that branch from on my own.  There are exciting and flashy trends that turn out to be little more than swamp gas. You can get completely lost trying to chase them down. Of more value are the simple things. Just going to the dojo and training.  Having a partner who trusts you and herself enough to attack so that you do get hit if you don’t move properly.


These are important parts of the journey.  There are many Ways that don’t require another person. Shodo and kado (calligraphy and flower arranging) leap to the front of my mind. No on is required to make shodo or kado practice complete.  The practitioner need never share her work with another person.  The calligraphy and the flower arrangement are complete even if no one else sees it.

Budo isn't a solo path though. All budo, even iai, is about interacting with the world. Our teachers and partners are important parts of the world, often providing immediate feedback on the quality of work. Our greatest adversary is always ourselves, but it is through practice with our partners and teachers that we find the flaws within ourselves to be addressed. That’s one of the tough things about having good teachers and peers on the path. They won’t lets us ignore our own faults. They point us towards faults we would happily ignore, and help us improve beyond them. This is never fun, but it is one of the great things about good budo practice with good teachers, good partners.

Not all budo training and learning happens in the dojo. Photo copyright 2015

Learning to fight without learning anything else is a fool’s path. Along the Way of budo training, there is a lot of learning beyond just the techniques. We won’t get that without our teachers, without our training partners. One of my students, an accomplished teacher in his own field, has been critical in helping me recognize and start dealing with some of my own weaknesses. He can sense when I don’t take some aspect of training as absolutely seriously as I need to. He also happens to have a brilliant eye for spotting issues with an individual’s structure. He is a wonderful companion for all of us traveling on this particular path.

I wouldn’t have made any progress in budo without my teachers and partners. They’ve taught me, gently and sometimes not so gently, about timing and spacing and ukemi and so many other things. Budo is an endless path, but I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without my teachers and partners. Thank you.

1 comment:

Deborah Klens-Bigman said...

Nice post, though I disagree with the remarks on kado and shodo. In the first place, the student of either art also has a teacher and fellow students who offer feedback (I have, somewhere in my collection, an elementary book on kado that, among other things, diagrams the various angles for the placement of flowers in an arrangement. Kado is often (sort of dismissively) described simply as "flower arrangement" by anyone who has not really looked at the complex blending of aesthetic and technical elements that are actually involved, but I digress).

Moreover, the idea that the practice of an art form being defined by the resulting product (the piece of calligraphy, the flower arrangement) overlooks the idea that the aesthetic act is in the creation of the object and not so much in the resulting object. Shodo is done from time to time as a performance in which an audience observes the act of writing by the calligrapher which adds to the aesthetic effect. It's not that the calligraphy itself is not beautiful, but it is a product of the artistic act not simply an art object in itself.

This idea of the artistic act comes from noh aesthetics, and, as a performer myself, makes a lot of sense in the age of video in particular. No one who has not seen a noh performance live (or, almost as importantly, in an actual noh theatre) can be said to have "seen noh." As cool as the resulting object (i.e. the video) may look, it is not even close to the sensory experience that is an actual performance. As some other writers have noted, it is not that much of a stretch to include other art forms as being more centered on the act of creation than the creation itself.